Portfolio Envy—Why Her Portfolio is Better Than His

Research shows gender matters in investing.

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While Freud's 1908 theory of penis envy has been wrought with controversy for over a century, financial sciences have clearly demonstrated that when it comes to money management, most men should have a serious case of portfolio envy. As some men like to take pride in bringing home the bacon, this realization could be quite emasculating. But the facts are in—research by economists Dr. Terrance Odean and Dr. Brad Barber has revealed that women's risk-adjusted returns outpaced that of men by 1 percent annually. Additionally, a past National Association of Investors Corporation study corroborates this finding and even suggests a wider gender gap with women outperforming men by a whopping 1.4 percent annually.

Minimizing Risk

One of the difficulties male investors face is the testosterone factor—an innate urge to beat the other guy, and then, of course, brag about it. This may explain why men trade in their accounts 45 percent more than women. While many men may feel that getting one's panties all wadded up over a little bit of risk is for sissies, research shows that sober risk analysis is essential to constructing a well-diversified portfolio and achieving long-term performance.

[See 3 Emotions That Will Destroy your Retirement.]

Minimizing risk, for whatever reason, doesn't seem to come naturally for men. A recent New York City Department of Transportation study revealed that men are 40 percent more likely to speed through a yellow light than women. More tragically, a 2007 TrafficSTATS report revealed that men have a 77 percent higher risk of dying in a car accident.

Men can be found running red lights in other areas of life as well. A study by anthropologist Kate Fox revealed that women view gambling negatively, while men hold a slightly positive view. The study goes on to state that women are more likely to avoid smoking, wear a seat belt, and even brush their teeth.

Men's willingness to take risk in an effort to beat the market, however, is sadly misplaced. Academic research reveals that a mere 1 out of 3 professional managers beat their benchmark over five years, with the odds dramatically decreasing over a 10-year time span. Women seem more able to grok this reality, and invest accordingly by taking a longer-term approach.

A Wee Bit Impatient

During the financial collapse of 2008, one nationwide survey revealed that 1 in 8 men—as opposed to 1 in 40 women—made trades during the collapse in an effort to reevaluate, change paths, and find a new strategy for future growth. Such switches in investment approach were also confirmed in Fox's research revealing that women are more patient and less impulsive with their investing. This results in a less active approach with fewer transaction fees, lower tax friction, and, as the science confirms, better returns.

[See Easy ETF Portfolios for Any Age.]

Why Ask for Directions?

Most everyone seems to have a tale of a male driver being lost and unwilling to stop and ask for directions. Whether myth or fact, Fox's research revealed that when it comes to finances, women are more apt to admit ignorance and reach out for help. While both men and women lacked knowledge when it came to certain financial products, women had a higher likelihood to ask for more information and clarification. More facts resulted in better investment decision and performance.

By stepping out of the testosterone-laden sandbox of active money management and resisting the impulse to compete to win, men can take a page out of the playbook of their gender counterparts. Simple global diversification, low-cost and tax-efficient indexing, and staying committed to maintaining allocations over the long haul are great building blocks for portfolio success.

Steve Beck is co-founder of MarketRiders, an online investment advisory and management service helping Americans invest for retirement. MarketRiders gives investors greater piece of mind knowing that they are leveraging the best thinking of Nobel Laureates and the investing methods used by the world's most elite institutions and wealthiest families. MarketRiders is on the investor's side, helping reduce investment costs and risks, and increasing retirement savings.